Some fifteen months after Marian lost her life under bizarre aeronautical circumstances, her husband decided to celebrate her fortieth birthday. Their old friends, well aware of the couple's love for one another, were not surprised to find, amid the daily monotony of their mail, an invitation to the home of the live husband and the late wife. They also knew that he had yet to have his final word on the matter, and that, beneath the emotional prattle and the love-soaked murmurs, Ben Mendelssohn was a man of action. His friends, put at ease by the invitation, saw the party as classic Mendelssohn, which is to say a come-as-you-are, be-ready-for-anything affair. After all, Ben paid the bills with his imagination, crafting surprise endings for a living. Writers of screenplays, writers at the dawn and dusk of their careers, letter writers, graphomaniacs, poets, drafters of Last Wills and Testamentsall used the services of Ben Mendelssohn, righter. In intellectual circles he was known as an epilogist; among laymen he remained anonymous, never once asking for his name to appear at the close of the work he sealed for others. Over time, experts were able to recognize his signature touches and, within their own literati circles, to admit to his genius. Marian, who recognized his talent from the start, had a keen distaste for her husband's enduring anonymity, but he, chuckling, would ask, "Do you know any famous towtruck drivers? All I do is drag miserable writers out of the mud."
After his wife's funeral, Ben asked his friends to let him be. At first they ignored his requests, stopping by his house and leaving messages on his machine, even though he had made clear, from the moment his wife had been tucked into the folds of the earth, that he had no interest in salvation. He lived reclusively, and they, in turn, stopped harassing him, convinced that he meant for his mourning to be a private affair. At their weekly get-togethers, they would bring him up and discuss his antics in the past tense of the posthumous, occasionally wondering what he was up to in the present. It took some time before they realized that they were, in a sense, simultaneously mourning both Ben and Marian, who, in death, had stolen the refreshing animal blue of her husband's wide eyes. The day she died, his enormous pupils narrowed, his eyes dimmed, and his muscles seemed to release their hold on his frame, sinking his shoulders, curving his back, pointing his forehead downwards. His hands, limp at his sides, told a tale of detachment. Their friends tried to bring back the old Ben, the live Ben, but were forced to make do with alcohol and nostalgia, trudging down the alleys of memory and avoiding the cross streets of today, which were guarded by a mute wall, a wall of no-comment.
And then, out of the blue, the invitations arrived and put an end to their exile. A sign of life! Ben was back from the dead. They met immediately to discuss a delicate questionwhat to get a dead woman for her birthday? The poetic friends pushed for something Marian would've loved; the practical ones advocated for a gift for their cloistered friend. After three packs of cigarettes, twenty-six bottles of beer and fifteen variations on the word idiot, they arrived at a decision. No gift could make Ben happier than a painting by Kolanski.
Kolanski's lovely wife turned out to be the perfect hostess. She did not ask for their names or their intentions, led them to a living room lined with artwork, served fruit and soft drinks, and then excused herself to call her husband from his backyard studio. His arrival brought Ben's friends to their feet. The great Kolanski had put his work aside, crossing the room quickly in his electric wheelchair.
His black eyes filled with disgust. "Who are you and why are you eating my fruit?" he boomed.
His wife told him to settle down, but he lashed out at her. "What do you want from me? Maybe they're murderers. She opens the door for anyone. What would you do if they were terrorists?"
The World of the End © Ofir Touché Gafla 2013
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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